SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – The new-look Northern Arizona University men's cross country team was out in full force Friday night at the Robinson Ranch Golf Course for the Pac-12 Preview meet as Brian Shrader and true-freshman Futsum Zienasellassie went one-two and led the No. 18 Lumberjacks to their second team win of 2012.
"I was a little concerned at first because of the heat, plus the competition was a bit tougher than our meet a couple weeks ago, but our guys executed their race plan beautifully tonight," said Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins. "We were actually getting beat at the halfway point of the race and UCLA looked like they had the win, but I was really impressed with how we finished that race through the last 3,000 meters to win it."
Shrader, a junior who notched his second individual meet title Friday after winning at the George Kyte Classic two weeks ago in Flagstaff, and Zienasellassie, the 2011 Gatorade National Runner of the Year, both crossed the finish line of the 8K course in 24:30, though Shrader earned the narrow victory. Redshirt sophomore Matt McElroy, who transferred to NAU this year from Oklahoma State, was fourth overall in 24:38, giving NAU three runners in the top five for their second-consecutive race.
Sophomore Caleb Hoover and redshirt freshman Alejandro Montano rounded out the top five for NAU, finishing seventh (24:55) and ninth (24:57). The strength of NAU's top five on Friday was notable as well, as just 27 seconds separated the first and fifth runners for the Lumberjacks.
The NAU women fared well in the 5K Invite race, finishing tied for second place with UC-Davis behind returning leaders Rochelle Kanuho (seventh-17:51), Caroline Hogardh (ninth-17:58), and Agnes Laurent (13th-18:02). Newcomer Melanie Townsend took fourth on the team with an 18th-place finish (18:23), while sophomore Lauren Justus completed the Top 25 in 18:35.
"We really improved immensely from George Kyte," said Heins. "Almost all of our runners moved up during the second half of the race, and they put us in where we at least had a shot to win the race. Tying a team like UC-Davis is always a good boost of confidence."
Finishing behind the men's team (23 points) was host No. 27 UCLA in second place (58), in-state foe Arizona State in third (66), and Cal Poly in fourth (87). In the women's race, No. 27-ranked Texas took the team crown with 56 points.
Also running for the Lumberjack men were Nathan Weitz (11th-24:58), Cody Reed (27th-25:36), Roman Acosta (30th-25:44), Brandon Hansen (53rd-26:55), and Chris Ganem (56th-27:20). Other finishers for the women were Sarah Baker (36th-19:07), Sarah Raber (45th-19:25), Kayla Freeman (46th-19:27), Kerri Lenihan (55th-19:46), and Olivia Ornelas (63rd-20:55).
The next meet for NAU comes in two weeks, when the Lumberjacks travel to Phoenix Oct. 6 for the Grand Canyon Invitational.